Marriage...what's up with you?

I’ve just come out of a year being surrounded by divorce.

Angry divorces. A complete surprise for one person divorces. Planned for over 12 months divorces. Perfectly amicable divorces. Rock solid on the outside but clearly not on the inside divorces. Friends, family and famous people. Like some sort of divorce superbug.

As usual I tend to see much of life through the lens of yoga, not just when I’m teaching. The different perspectives and philosophies drawn from yoga infuse all decisions, both life changing and miniscule. I aim to also do this when I’m teaching. So I spend time drawing parallels between postures, to give students a different vantage point.

From my lens I see downward dog as an upside down boat pose. I see plank in the same light as tadasana. I see cat/cow and bridge as the same movement. For some students, these different vantage points show them how to finesse the posture. They see it differently and feel it differently. Their understanding deepens, empathy grows and judgement turns to curiosity.

So with this curiosity I thought I might spend some time looking at marriage, or rather divorce through the eyes of yoga.

Marriage, divorce...all super unhelpful labels.

I know a couple who have spent years changing their status, being together then splitting up, the relationship working for a bit then falling apart in a loud Dr Phil type heap. They are now technically married but live apart. They also hold hands when they hang out. Weirdly wonderful but the removal of labels seems to have done the trick for them. Not really married, not really divorced but finally happy.

Forward bends, backbends, inversions, twists. They all mean different things and invoke different responses in people. “I hate backbends” or “I can’t do inversions”. When we only see the label, we tend to focus on what we need to accomplish, not what it feels like. To do a successful inversion blah, blah, blah needs to happen.

The label marriage looks like this while divorce looks like this. My friends now just hang out because they like each other. Simple.

Simplicity is a great adhesive.

A 15 minute walk around the block every evening or luxurious but infrequent weekends away…which one is more beneficial to marriage? The walk is regular, dependable and easy to make happen. It’s the perfect opportunity to clear up tiny problems and tweak arrangements that no longer work.

Some of the most satisfying yoga practices involve nothing more than laying on the floor, hands on belly and observing your breath. Exquisite.

Some days it’s just shitty.

You know that practice, the one where you keep falling over in your balances and downward dog feels like you’re being stabbed in the shoulders. When you start feeling really bloody angry and tap your fingers while you wait for stupid savasana to be over. We all have those classes. Sometimes it’s every class for a month and then you’ll sail into perfectly balanced, stab-free shoulders and peaceful savasanas for a while.

The good practices are so good but the bad practices, the uncomfortable ones are the best teachers. But only when you reflect on why. When you sit for a moment after the stupid savasana and reflect. Marriage and divorce, good bits and shitty bits. Both spectacular teachers. But only when you sit for a moment and reflect why.

You bring the parts, marriage brings the collective.

Work yourself out, in the same way we work out how to spell and how to count. What you like, what drives you, what you’re not prepared to accept. What pisses you off. The other person does the same. Hopefully. Then marriage becomes about the fine art of weaving these together.

You can read a book about how to do a yoga pose. It will give you the technical, step-by-step instructions. You can You-Tube how to do full yogic breathing. You can get better at the parts but the practice of yoga is merging the parts together into a smooth, intuitive, strong and flexible dance.

Marriage is beginning to have an air of elusiveness. Like a rare and endangered animal. This is further confirmed by the fancy ceremony put on by the city for those rare couples still enjoying (insert surviving) marriage 50 years on. It even made the evening news. Fancy that.


When wellness becomes a long lost friend

Two is the magic number. There are two ways to do wellness. The easy or the hard way.

When the planets and stars align and you’re firmly positioned on a wellness warpath, it’s easy to stay on it. When one foot slips off though, it very quickly pulls the other and before you know it you’re cascading down a steep chocolate and alcohol drenched cliff.

How many planets have to line up in order for wellness to be sustainable? Time, money, kids, family, work, free mat at yoga.  The next question is how many of these planets do you have control over? Potentially all if you orchestrate your life down to the wire but at best probably only two.

There are two ways to do everything. There are two ways to do a backbend, force the shoulders backward or elevate the chest forward. There are two ends of a spectrum we dance with in yoga, the strong end and the flexible end. There are two ways to create length in a posture, reach up taller or push down lower.

What’s highly desirable for wellness but isn’t easily attainable…

  • Gain another four hours in the day that doesn’t belong to anyone but you
  • Find an on-call babysitter that works for free
  • Morph your yoga teacher into your home once the kids are in bed

Instagram, wellness conferences, gurus and 12 week challenges make wellness really hard. They give wellness a specific “look”, that it needs to be a certain way and you need to hit a certain benchmark in order to be doing it. Maybe the challenge lies in how we define it rather than how we do it.

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science gives us a really empowering definition. “All dis-ease and illness starts in the mind.” The most important part of the definition is the tiny little hyphen. It creates a separation between a state of ease and a state of disease. Our natural state is one of wellness, we’ve just added layers of crap. So what’s the easiest way to work with the layers of crap? Rather than suffocate them by forcing wellness, simply peel them back.

You want your definition of wellness to empower you because being empowered will get you out of bed at 5am to run or meditate or do whatever you do. The 12 week challenge will get you out of bed exactly 84 times but then what?
Working with layers…

  • Peel back 30 minutes of TV each day and you’ll score an extra 3 and a half hours each week
  • Peel back the confusion about where and how yoga has to happen. Not every session has to be an hour and happen in a studio. Think of all that can happen in 20 minutes, a house can burn down or a ship can sink. But you could also blend a smoothie and drink it, read a few chapters of a book or do some yoga.
  • Peel back your definition of wellness. Strip the social media out of it, strip the aesthetics out of it and then see if what’s left is empowering. Empowering enough to get you out of bed at 5am.

"There are two ways to be rich. You can earn, inherit, borrow, beg or steal enough money to meet all your desires or you can cultivate a simple lifestyle of few desires” (Dan Millman)

I did an yoga

I recently realised the effects of doing almost 30 hours of yoga a week. Something dawned on me that I may have forgotten. With my crazy teaching schedule plus personal practice, my expectations of what people can do sometimes exceeds their reality.

My solution, albeit a little extreme, was to cut back on my mat time during a recent month long holiday. Cut back to what many people would do, one class a week. My intention was to emulate a more ‘typical’ body and mind and just see what happened.

Week 1.

I happily lapped up my first 40 minutes of yoga then firmed my resolve to not practice yoga again for the rest of the week. After two days of no yoga I felt achy, my back felt ‘sticky’ and I had a crappy night sleep. Stay strong – no more yoga for the week.

Then something happened I wasn’t prepared for. After five or six days, I noticed a mental shift. Lazy crept in, lethargy took hold, inner calm started to waver.

Week 2.

Another surprise. As I was still operating in lazy, lethargic mode, I had to almost force myself to do yoga this week. Now here is the crazy part, I went for a 20 minute run AND I DIDN’T STRETCH AFTERWARD. If I was going to do this experiment I was going to do it properly and I know so many people run, don’t stretch and do yoga once a week. My knee now hurts, really hurts. I had to buy a knee brace-thingy.

Week 3.

I did my hour of yoga this week and felt amazing. The rhythmic sound of my breathing was calming and reassuring. I had to modify a lot of postures on account of my knee but it felt good to be on my old faithful mat. I struggled to sit cross-legged, again on account of knee so my meditation practice felt a little interrupted.

Week 4.

Knee getting worse and starting to become concerned with studio opening soon and unable to sit comfortably cross-legged. Perhaps my quest for wisdom was misguided. Since 1st December I have done one class of yoga a week and run for 20 minutes. Crazy hey?

What made these four weeks so valuable to my teaching ability were the observations and reflections on how most people live. My body became like a beginners and my mind fragmented and unfocussed.

After a week of teaching, I am right back to where I was. My approach to life has once again became calm, my creativity has exploded, my quality of sleep is refreshing and revitalising.

Knee brace-thingy gone.

“Do not suppress it – that would hurt you inside. Do not express it – that would not only hurt you inside but cause ripples in your surroundings. What you do is transform it” (Peace Pilgrim)

Yoga for me transforms anger, impatience, ungratefulness, fear, stagnation and injury into something positive I can use to evolve.

Observations and reflections…

  • Most people have very low expectations for wellness and how good their body could feel.
  • Amidst the craziness of daily life, we all have a calm and peaceful centre. We just pay more attention to the crazy than the calm.
  • It doesn’t take long to lose it but it doesn’t take long to get it back.
  • Our bodies are designed to move.  Movement equals freedom.
  • Inner peace requires some stillness and inward awareness everyday.
  • Improvement doesn’t require a big hit of massive effort. It requires consistant and committed effort. Everyday.
  • Yoga makes a huge difference. Simple.

Theory of 3

I was recently interviewed by a magazine on my occupation as a yoga teacher.

I was asked to focus on the occupation of teaching yoga rather than what yoga is or is not. And so my theory of 3 emerged. I’ve had this theory for quite a while now. All jobs can be categorised into 3 types. The enablers, the enrichers and the evolvers.

The evolves are the drivers.

They are responsible for 2015 being a vastly different landscape to 1915. Think scientists, researchers and financial planners. Think engineers, computer techs and creative marketers. They are not concerned with today, they exist for the future.

The enablers are the lifelines.

Nurses, doctors, firefighters; they all provide assistance to people who may be having the worst day of their life. Teachers, disability workers, aged carers; they give people the skills they need to make their way in life. Speech therapists, childcare workers and mums and dads are all lifelines for their clients.

The evolvers need the enablers. When a financial planners house is burning down he needs his firefighter lifeline. A childcare worker is the lifeline for the engineers baby between 9 and 5.

The enablers look to the evolvers to make sure 2070 is going to be a more colourful, more sustainable, more accepting and more prosperous world than today.

The enrichers sit in the middle.

They enrich our lives so we're a little more comfortable and more at ease. These are the jobs that often didn’t exist in years gone by. They are the retail assistants, petrol station attendants and baristas. The telco workers, hairdressers, butchers and builders. Truth…we don’t actually need them. The fact is we can do without a haircut but how amazing do we feel when we get one. We can do without petrol stations but we’ve outgrown bikes and become much more globalised. We can do without shop clerks but I don’t know how to grow a leek. We could actually do without builders, we used to live happily in caves but how can you compare a tent to a house. We can do without writers but how delightful is it to curl up in bed with a good book.

It’s going to be really challenging for an American scientist to connect with his Finnish counterpart without a telco worker. Not impossible but really difficult. A doctor doing a 12 hour night shift will happily hug her skinny flat white. She’d still make it through her shift but will be much nicer and more attentive. Two desirable qualities in a doctor.

Our positions all have a higher purpose, not just to cut hair or process a payment. It’s not just about putting out a fire, soothing a wound or creating a website. It’s really not about teaching ABC or how to play guitar. The purpose generally isn't listed on the position description, only the requirements, skill sets and pay grade.

The magazine article finished with my thoughts on the occupational highs and lows of being a yoga teacher. The things I didn't anticipate, wasn't trained for and the things I wouldn't trade for anything.

  • I wasn't trained but have had to learn the art of restraint. People share a lot and it takes restraint to only listen, not try to fix the problems of the world. Dr Phil is for that.
  • Also being trained as a counsellor would be super helpful most days.
  • Teaching body awareness is a feat that constantly needs finessing.
  • Being ok when people cry in class, show me their scars, look at me with daggers, come every day or don't come for a year. It's not about me.
  • Reading situations so I can respond appropriately when people speak ill of yoga. The 5000 year old system needs to be protected but it's not mine to own and finally...
  • Having skin under toes contributes greatly to overall foot comfort. I regularly have no skin under my big toes from 35 hours a week turning left and right to demonstrate postures. Just goes with the territory I guess.